Author Topic: Riding west to east along the northern tier  (Read 2028 times)

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Offline Bursha

Riding west to east along the northern tier
« on: June 10, 2013, 08:36:36 pm »
My friend and I are planning to ride next May 2014 from Washington state to Maine. We plan to take about three months to accomplish this. This will be a first time for both of us on attempting a ride of this magnitude. I was hoping for some tips/advice from those who have done this ride on what to expect, avoid, etc. thank you!

Offline Norsman

Re: Riding west to east along the northern tier
« Reply #1 on: June 11, 2013, 06:52:48 pm »
I have only ridden a small part of this so I can't give any info on the eastern parts.  The section I rode between Sedro-Wooley and Tonasket is beautiful but can also be very difficult. But first a tip to save some time.  The ACA maps have you using an alternate route to Hwy 20 between Sedro-Wooley and Concrete and another between Rockport and Marblemount.  You can certainly use the alternates routes, and other may say they are great, but I found the ride along Hwy 20 to be easy and very enjoyable.  There were some shoulder issues between Rockport and Marblemount but the traffic was so light that it did not become an issue.

It is after Marblemount that things become more difficult.  Some stop there and ride the passes in one day.  I wouldn't suggest that, you are still about 90 kilometres from the top with a great deal of tough climbing to do. I stocked up on food and continued 40 kilometres to Colonial Creek Campground at Diablo Lake.  The next day I took on Rainy and Washington passes.  They are seriously tough climbing.  I have mountain bike gearing on my Trek 520 and used the granny gear all day.  Make sure you have enough food and water for this climb.  I ran out of water well before the top and had to get it from the streams coming off the mountain, luckily without any issues.  Loup Loup Pass next day was a bit of a challenge but not as difficult.

If you are planning on doing this during the summer be prepared for hot weather in the Okanogan region of Washington.

One final piece of advice.  If you have not already visited the crazyguyonabike site do so.  Search for Northern Tier and you will find lots of journal entries.

Offline johnsondasw

Re: Riding west to east along the northern tier
« Reply #2 on: June 12, 2013, 11:55:52 am »
And then there are 2 more difficult but very scenic climbs just east of Tonasket--Waconda summit and Sherman Pass, the latter of which is 5587 feet. There is an easier climb just east of Colville to get over to
Tiger.  Don't be discouraged, though.  The Washington section of the NT is some of the most spectacular riding of the US.  Just take it a pass at a time and don't figure on getting huge daily mileage averages through here. 
May the wind be at your back!

Offline Bursha

Re: Riding west to east along the northern tier
« Reply #3 on: June 12, 2013, 12:04:43 pm »
Thanks for the great info!!

In your opinion, what kind of daily mileage can be expected when crossing through Washington and those first set of mountains?? I'm really intimidated by the idea of tackling huge hill climbs right from the beginning.

Offline johnsondasw

Re: Riding west to east along the northern tier
« Reply #4 on: June 12, 2013, 01:13:31 pm »
That is so individual.  In my younger days (I'm 64 now) I did about 60-100 miles a day in this same area, carrying full loads and riding old 10 speed bikes.  If I were to do it now, I'd shoot for 40-50 mpd.  Get in shape first and ride lots of hills and practice some with a load.  You'll be fine if you prepare adequately.
May the wind be at your back!

Offline indyfabz

Re: Riding west to east along the northern tier
« Reply #5 on: June 12, 2013, 02:34:41 pm »
Thanks for the great info!!

In your opinion, what kind of daily mileage can be expected when crossing through Washington and those first set of mountains?? I'm really intimidated by the idea of tackling huge hill climbs right from the beginning.

I did the entire NT once and the section between Bay View and Glacier National Park a second time. Both times I started in Seattle and rode north for three days to join the route just east of Anacortes. Left Seattle both times around May 25th. Here was the daily itinerary in WA for both trips (excluding the two days from Seattle to Bay View):

Bay View, Rockport, Colonial Creek Campground, Witnthrop, Winthrop, Tonasktet, Republic, Colville, Ione. From there, it was into ID.

1. Between Sedro Wooley and Conrete, the S. Skagit Highway was a marvelous ride. Like being in a rain forest, but with a frightfully cold rain.

2. Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport has Adirondak shelters, which is nice if it's wet, which is a distinct possibility in May. Bought groceries in Concrete. There was a great dive bar right above the campground.

3. +1 on staying at Colonial Creek. There is camping in Newhalem, but that's right where the hills start. There are two shorter climbs and two descents between Newhalem and Colonial Creek. The climb to Washington Pass is long enough. No need to make it longer. If you stay in Rockport you will have a short day to Colonial Creek, which means you will be well rested for the next day's climb. The official route between Rockport and Marblemount is nice. There was zero traffic both times and no hills.

4. Take plenty to eat and drink for the climb to Washington Pass. There are no services whatsoever on the way up virtually none on the way down until Mazama. (I believe there is a USFS campground along the descent, but I don't know if it has water.) We supplied at the small stoe in Newhalem on the way to Colonial Creek. Don't know what sort of grocery selection they are currently carrying. The first year I got rained and then snowed on before Rainy Pass and through to Washington Pass. My fingers froze on the descent. The second year I brought an extra pair of winter gloves so I would have something dry to put on for the descent. Weather tunred out to be much better, but you should be prepared for anything.

5. The first time, between Mazama and Winthrop I took the official route which uses some road with the name Goat in it. The second time I stayed on SR 20. The former way is prettier but had some ups and downs. SR 20 was easier.

5. Winthrop is a nice place for a day off. There is a releatively new bike camp there. The KOA was also nice. Right next to the river. There is a brew pub in town.

6. Loup Loup wasn't that hard of a climb. It's relatively easy early on. The latter part is the most difficult. The descent has sections of 8%. The stretch between Okanogan and Tonasket was very warm and dry both times, and there is no shade. Water up in Okanogan.

7. Waucunda isn;t that hard either. You will feel cheated on the descent as you don't get a very long stretch of steep downhill. Ther fairgrounds in town was a nice place to camp. Cheap with hot showers. I understand that a couple near town has established a sort of bike camp.

8. Sherman Pass starts out steep then relaxes (even goes down a bit) then turns up again. Both times I felt like I climbed forever. Maybe I was just tired from the previous two days. The first year I woke to snow flurries in Republic and rode through snow on the descent. Saw a moose. The second year was cold but dry. There is a cool old CCC camp historical site on the right during the descent that is worth stopping for. In Colville I stayed at Benny's Colville Inn both times. Nice place with a pool and hot tub.

9. Colville to Ione is a short day, which meant a long day to Sandpoint. Ione was not that nice a place. The first year we (I was with a group) camped in the city park and saw a few drug deals being made between people in cars. The second time I camped a few miles north at a dam site that had a free campground. I felt isolated and uneasy. If I were to do it all again, I would pass on Ione and press on to Usk, where I think there is a campground. If it's no longer there, I believe there might be a place on the SR 20 side of the river. You can cross the river via the bridge at Usk.

10. Unless things have changed, do not be tempted to take U.S. 2 from the Newtown area into Sandpoint. There was a lot of traffic, including trucks, and little or no shoulder in places. Stay on the official route. The old U.S. 95 bridge that is now a bikeway into Sandpoint is neat. There was no camping in Sandpoint. The second time I stayed at Springy Point along the shore of the lake. Nice place for a two-night stay but not near anything. It's a several mile ride into town proper.

If you are worried about doing the Washington Pass climb so early on, you might consider starting in Seattle like I did. After a short ferry ride you can follow ACA's Pacific Coast route north to join the NT route. That would allow you to stay at Fort Worden S.P., which is a nice place that happens to have served as the military base in the film "An Officer and a Gentleman."

Probably more than you wanted to know. Feel free to send me a PM with more questions. A few years ago I did the section between Glacier N.P. and Eureka, MT so that's fresher in my mind.

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Riding west to east along the northern tier
« Reply #6 on: June 12, 2013, 03:28:57 pm »
In your opinion, what kind of daily mileage can be expected when crossing through Washington and those first set of mountains?? I'm really intimidated by the idea of tackling huge hill climbs right from the beginning.

I'll defer to the other posters who've done it west-east (we rode west) on the approach to the first passes.  From there on, figure a pass a day until you get to the Columbia River.

I found out west that I usually ended up riding from one town to the next.  It could be done differently, especially if you're willing to load up on food and water -- again, YMMV.

Offline indyfabz

Re: Riding west to east along the northern tier
« Reply #7 on: June 12, 2013, 04:51:43 pm »
In your opinion, what kind of daily mileage can be expected when crossing through Washington and those first set of mountains?? I'm really intimidated by the idea of tackling huge hill climbs right from the beginning.

I'll defer to the other posters who've done it west-east (we rode west) on the approach to the first passes.  From there on, figure a pass a day until you get to the Columbia River.

I found out west that I usually ended up riding from one town to the next.  It could be done differently, especially if you're willing to load up on food and water -- again, YMMV.

Yes. A pass a day is how it works out unless you do some massive a mileage days. That's because, aside from Waucunda/Sherman, there is some noticeable mileage between the climbs. The decision is where you stay in between. For example, when you come over Washington Pass, you can stay in Winthrop or further down the road in Twisp. Staying in the latter will mean a shorter day when you climb Loup Loup but more miles after Washington Pass. Same with Loup Loup. You can stay in Tonasket, where Waucunda starts or stop short of there, making for a longer day when you climb that pass but fewer miles after Loup Loup.

Personally, I like getting as close as possible to the start of the climb. Less warm up but more energy. A few years ago we climbed Pipestone Pass on the way to Butte, MT. We stayed in Twin Bridges the night before. That meant some 15 or 20 miles of warm, shadeless, rolling riding before the climb. I think that contributed to the difficulty we had with what seemed on paper to be nothing very difficult.

On that note, I forgot to mention that from Colonial Creek, you get no warm up. You turn right ouf the campground, cross the bridge and hit what is probably the steepest sustained section of the climb. Several of us actually took laps around the campground to warm up our cold (literally) muscles.

Offline Norsman

Re: Riding west to east along the northern tier
« Reply #8 on: June 12, 2013, 06:35:45 pm »
if you don't mind crossing the border you can have a slightly easier start to your trip.  Fly into Vancouver or even better Victoria and make your way east to Hope.  This first part is very flat and can easily be done in two days.  From Hope to Princeton the climbing can be difficult but it can also be divided into three parts to get through the Cascade Mountains.  The toughest part is Hope to Hope Slide (Sunshine Valley). You climb about 2300 feet in just over 10 miles, with the last 3.5 miles being the toughest at a steady 7+%.  There is a brand new, probably expensive, RV site at Sunshine Valley.  The next day you begin by losing a few hundred feet of elevation over an 8-9 mile warm-up ride before the climb to Alison Pass begins. You again climb about 2300ft but over about 15 miles this time so not as difficult.

A little past the summit there is Manning Park Lodge where you can get something to eat and buy some groceries (not a great selection).  You can stay at the lodge or one of the campsites in the park if you want to take this slowly.  Energetic types carry on to Princeton.  However between the park and Princeton there is one more significant climb, Sunday Summit.

From the Lodge you once again lose some elevation, this time about 750 ft over 10 miles before the climb to the summit begins. This again is fairly steep but not too long; about 950ft over 4.25 miles.  After the summit there are a couple of little hills and then downhill to Princeton, which has motels, campgrounds and groceries.  These are three pretty short days. 13, 29 and 42 miles.  When I did a cross Canada ride I divided the climbing this way over three days but I tacked the first day's climb on to the end of a ride from Chilliwack and on the third day I went well past Princeton.

From Princeton to Tonasket, through the Nighthawk border crossing,  it is a relatively easy ride of 90 miles and about 1300 ft total elevation made up mostly of rollers. This route gets you past Rainy, Washington and Loup Loup passes but of course does not get around the next passes on the route. The two main benefits are less climbing, about 2200ft, and no long gaps between places with at least basic facilities.  However you will probably add some mileage to your ride depending on where you start.

Offline Bursha

Re: Riding west to east along the northern tier
« Reply #9 on: June 13, 2013, 08:42:14 pm »
WOW! Thanks everyone for the great information and tips. I haven't acquired my maps yet, so most of these location names are a bit foreign to me. I'm hoping to get some maps real soon and start plotting our route. Gotta save my pennies, those ACA maps aren't cheap!

We're planning to leave in the middle of May. Is cold weather clothing/gear required? What kind, how much?? We have big agnes sleeping bags rated at 15degrees. What type of clothing should i consider, rain gear/winter clothing??

Thanks again for all your tips and info!

Offline adventurepdx

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Re: Riding west to east along the northern tier
« Reply #10 on: June 14, 2013, 12:58:07 am »
We're planning to leave in the middle of May. Is cold weather clothing/gear required? What kind, how much?? We have big agnes sleeping bags rated at 15degrees. What type of clothing should i consider, rain gear/winter clothing?

Mid-May is a bit on the early side for the Northern Tier. Rainy/Washington Pass, the first pass you'll run into eastbound, closes each winter. Depending on how much snow the Cascades get, may not be open by the time you depart. My girlfriend and I did parts of the Northern Tier in 2011, and Rainy/Washington did not open until May 25. That year had high snow levels, though.

As for rain/cold gear, YES. Weather can change dramatically in the mountains, and May is still early spring depending on where you are. You may see snow/get snowed on at higher elevations. And even if it's not snowing, it can get cold. When we summitted Sherman Pass around mid-June it was 38F/3C and raining at the top of the pass. Not fun.

Offline indyfabz

Re: Riding west to east along the northern tier
« Reply #11 on: June 14, 2013, 10:26:00 am »
+1 on what PDX says. As noted, I got snowed and rained on crossing Rainy/Washington and Sherman. Both times it poured a cold rain between Sedro-Wooley and Rockport. Somewhere at home I have a photo of the large sign for Washington Pass nearly covered in snow. Those conditions are quite dramatic scenery-wise, but they can become dangerous when you start to descend.

Allso, leaving mid-May will substantially increase the chance that Going to Sun Rd. over Logan Pass in Glacier National Park will not be open, especially if the road reconstruction project is still going on. For example, as of today, the road is not open fully open to cars. There is a chance that hikers and bikers can cross the pass today through the weekend:

http://home.nps.gov/applications/glac/roadstatus/roadstatus.cfm

In 2009, the last time I was there, Logan Pass did not open until late June. A year or two after that, it did not open until some time in July. While a July opening is rare, late June is a distinct possibility. A mid-June opening is what you should count on. Even if the snow and debris has been cleared and the guardrails put in place, the NPS may keep the road closed up to a specific date to allow for uninterrupted construction activity.

It would be a shame to miss GTS. I have ridden up to Logan Pass three times. Its always a thrill. The alternative (U.S. 2 over Marias Pass) is a long slog and not particularly scenic. It also leaves youi with a pretty taxing day to get back on route if you want to follow the portion of the route into Canada to Waterton Village, which I highly recommend. Even if Logan Pass is not fully open, it would be worth going into the park, making camp at either Avalanche or Sprague Creek Campground and riding as far up the west side as possible.

Offline indyfabz

Re: Riding west to east along the northern tier
« Reply #12 on: June 14, 2013, 10:34:18 am »
Found this:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/davez2007/9040668183/

I took it near the summit of Washington Pass.

Offline rabbitoh

Re: Riding west to east along the northern tier
« Reply #13 on: June 14, 2013, 05:06:01 pm »
A mid-May start lends itself to riding East to West. That way, you get plenty of miles into your legs before the big climbs and also, Going-To-The-Sun in Montana and the passes in the North Cascades are less likely to be closed.

I have cycled the NT East to West and started mid-May.

Unless your heart is set on riding W-E, riding in the opposite direction could be a consideration.

Either way, it is a spectacular ride.

Enjoy!
Good Cycling
Dennis

Offline Bursha

Re: Riding west to east along the northern tier
« Reply #14 on: June 14, 2013, 08:46:00 pm »
Our hearts are set on riding W->E. Thinking we may start towards the end of May now and hope for the best in regards to weather and road closures,etc.